Counterfeit Religion of the Beast

SYNOPSIS The “beast from the sea” is a counterfeit who mimics the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, in order to deceive the saints and, thus, destroy them. 

Daniel Klaffke on Unsplash
Daniel Klaffke on Unsplash
The book of Revelation includes a vision of two different beasts; one that ascends from the sea and, the second, from the “earth.” The first Beast is a composite of four creatures from Daniel’s vision of four beasts that he saw ascending out of a chaotic sea (Revelation 13:1-18Daniel 7:1-8).

The description of the "beast from the earth" in Revelation combines langue from two different passages from the book of Daniel:
  • (Daniel 7:17) - “These four are four kings that will ascend out of the earth.”
  • (Daniel 3:1-7) - “Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits, and its breadth six cubits.”
In Daniel, the four beasts represent four consecutive kingdoms, beginning with Babylon. However, while Daniel saw four individual beasts, John saw only one and it possessed the characteristics of all four of the beasts from the vision of Daniel.

The beast from the sea in the book of Revelation is characterized by its political, economic, and military might (“Who can make war with it?”). It first appeared in the vision of the “Two Witnesses.” After they completed their testimony, the “beast that ascends from the Abyss made war with them, overcame them, and killed them." The Two Witnesses are identified as “lampstands”; that is, they represent churches (Revelation 1:20, 11:4-7).

he beast next appears in Revelation 13:1 when John sees it “ascending from the sea.” Its ascent from the sea is the same reality as the beast that “ascended from the Abyss.” Like the Dragon, this beast has seven heads and ten horns, for it operates with all the authority of the Dragon (Revelation 11:7, 12:9, 13:1-3).

Preaching Politics - Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
By Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
One of its seven heads appeared as though “slain unto death, and its death-stroke was healed.” This was not a prediction of a future politician who would be assassinated and restored to life miraculously. The beast is more than an individual; it symbolizes a political system and has the characteristics of all four kingdoms from the vision of Daniel (Revelation 13:3, 17:9-10).

As having been slain.” This replicates a Greek clause applied previously to the slain Lamb (“A lamb standing as having been slain”). Likewise, the beast was “wounded by the sword and lived.” The same Greek verb for “lived” is applied to the Lamb and the beast (“The words of the first and the last, who died and lived” - Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3, 13:14).

The restoration of the head of the beast mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus. Its “resurrection” causes the "inhabitants of the earth" to render homage to it; it is a counterfeit of the true Lamb.

The Beast uses its power “to make war against the saints” and “to overcome them”. The repetition of terms from the slaying of the two witnesses by the “beast from the abyss” is deliberate; again, the same reality is in view in both visions. The term “saints” refers to the same group that was represented by the “two witnesses”; the “war” waged against the latter is the same as the “war” that the beast from the sea wages against the saints (Revelation 11:7, 13:7-10).

The war of the beast against the saints ends with the exhortation: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear…Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints”. This call is reiterated in Revelation 14:12 where the “saints” are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This group consists of followers of the Lamb (Revelation 8:3-4, 11:18, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6).
The first beast is the most impressive and frightening of the two. However, the importance of the second beast, the beast "from the earth," and its use of a counterfeit religion to deceive must not be downplayed. It plays a vital part in leading men into the idolatrous allegiance to the first Beast and it does so by means of religious practices, not violence and oppression.
The second beast “ascends out of the earth” and has “two horns like a lamb.” “Lamb” translates a Greek diminutive for “little lamb” (arnion) that is applied to Jesus in Revelation; thus, the beast from the earth mimics Jesus, the true Lamb; it is a counterfeit (Revelation 5:5-6, 13:11).

The second beast has two horns. The number means that it mimics the "Two Witnesses" who bore prophetic witness, and, like Elijah, they had the power to devour their enemies by fire. Likewise, this "beast" performs miracles like Moses and Elijah; it “makes fire come down out of heaven upon the earth.” Thus, the second Beast presents a counterfeit prophetic witness to the "inhabitants of the earth," one that directs humanity to a false messiah, the "beast from the sea" (Revelation 11:4-5, 13:13, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Kings 1:10).

The "beast from the sea" is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ that is proclaimed to the earth by its “prophet,” one who “speaks like the Dragon.” Elsewhere in the book, the latter is called the “false prophet.” The “false prophet” has already been anticipated in the letters to the churches of Asia when Jesus criticized the teachings of the “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” Jezebel, and the teachings of Balaam (Revelation 2:2-6; 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

In other words, the false prophet was already active within the churches of Asia. The second beast possessed all the “authority of the first beast to cause the inhabitants of the earth to render homage to the first Beast, whose mortal wound was healed,” which it achieved this by performing “great signs” (Revelation 2:2-6; 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

The description is parallel to the warning of Jesus about coming deceivers and “false prophets” that will work “signs and wonders” to deceive the elect; likewise, to Paul’s warning about the deceitful activities of the “man of lawlessness” that he linked to a coming “apostasy” (Matthew 24:242 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

The false prophet in the book of Revelation uses "signs and wonders" to “deceive those who dwell on the earth” so they will build an image to the "beast from the sea." The description of the “number of the beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, builds on verbal allusions to the story of the enormous golden image “set up” by Nebuchadnezzar in the “Plain of Dura”:
  • (Daniel 3:1-7) – “Nebuchadnezzar made an image…the height thereof sixty cubits, its breadth six cubits…the king ordered all peoples, races, and tongues to fall down and render homage to the image. Whoever did not render homage to the image was slain.”
  • (Revelation 13:14-18) – The second Beast “causes the earth’s inhabitants to make an image to the Beast who had the stroke of the sword and lived…It caused that as many as should not render homage to the image… should be slain. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead…six hundred and sixty and six.”
The first beast is given authority over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation,” the same authority claimed by Nebuchadnezzar. The literary source for the number of the beast links it to idolatry. But the beast also wields political and economic power to compel men and women to render homage to it; idolatrous religion and the power of the State are intermixed.

Nebuchadnezzar forced everyone in his empire to fall prostrate before his image, slaying all who refused to do so; likewise, the same fate awaits anyone who does not render homage to the image of the beast. The attempt to slay the three Jews who refused to worship the Babylonian image foreshadows the fate of all “saints” that refuse to take the mark of the Beast or to worship its image. Thus, the Dragon uses persecution and religious deception to wage war against the saints.

The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image was “sixty” cubits and its width “six cubits.” The expansion of the number in Revelation may intensify its symbolic significance. Similarly, the “ten days of tribulation” given to the church at Smyrna are cubed to become the “thousand years” during which martyrs reign with Jesus as “priests” (10 x 10 x 10 [Revelation 2:10, 20:2-4]). The reign of the saints is paradoxical; it is of a different nature than the reign of the Dragon or his Beast.
The number six hundred and sixty-six is figurative. Both the background from Daniel and the context link it to idolatry, a sin of concern throughout Revelation. The "mark of the Beast" is contrasted with the “seal of God” and His name on the foreheads of them who follow the Lamb. The Beast’s mark is a counterfeit of the seal of God, as is his “name.” If God’s seal is not a visible mark, neither is the Beast’s mark. Humanity falls into two categories - Those who follow the Lamb and have the seal of God, and, Those who take the mark of the Beast and render homage to it (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).
The beast system on some level will be an imitation of Jesus, a counterfeit of the true faith. This may include religious rites, language, and symbolism borrowed from Christianity; it will mimic the genuine article. The goal of the Dragon is to destroy the church. Christians are not easily fooled by non-Christian beliefs and practices; however, Satan can appear as an “angel of light” and the best deception is one that imitates the true faith.

Christians alert for the rise of religious deception in non-Christians religions, philosophies, and movements ought to watch developments closer to home. The Devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, especially within the church.

Followers of Jesus should exercise caution towards “Christian” organizations, preachers, and “prophets” that glorify political systems, ideologies, or governments, especially, any and all attempts to identify Christianity with a nation, government, or political movement. Biblical Christianity does have a decided political side to it; the kingdom of God. But the allegiance demanded by its king is total, leaving no room for divided loyalties.


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